Ryan’s policy ideas might stand on their own as sensible suggestions, but presenting them this way makes two critical mistakes. First, If conservatives can at least agree on the major policy focus, they can avoid further factional splintering as the shutdown continues. They have mostly done this so far, concentrating on ObamaCare. Second, moving the goalposts plays right into Democrats’ habit of accusing Republicans of hostage-taking. If the right has a specific, timely, and relevant piece of policy it wants to fight over, the public can at least see a degree of rationality to the gambit. If conservatives just start throwing all manner of comprehensive reform at the president as varying demands to reopen the government, they will look erratic and undisciplined to those in the public who thought at least there was a clear point to all this [bold mine-DL].
Yes, we wouldn’t want Republicans in Congress to start looking erratic and undisciplined, since that would ruin the brilliant display of purposeful futility they have been presenting to the public up until now. A standard movement conservative criticism of Ryan’s op-ed seem to be that it fails to continue the doomed fight over the ACA and it attempts to salvage anything from the debacle so that Republicans can claim to have achieved something. Concentrating their efforts on the ACA at this point would be to commit the same error that the House GOP made in the first place, which would be even less defensible than the first time because there is now no doubt such an effort will fail. By watering down the House GOP’s demands somewhat, Ryan is tacitly acknowledging the futility of the defunding effort, and so naturally his proposals are meeting resistance from movement conservatives that still haven’t realized that that effort cannot possibly succeed. The problem with Ryan’s proposal is that it doesn’t make much difference whether the House GOP throws one big demand at Obama or settles for making a number of smaller ones, since it is the idea that Republicans should be rewarded for their antics that most clearly divides the two sides.
Mandel’s main mistake here is thinking that Republicans have a “policy advantage” that they are in danger of squandering. The ACA has been unpopular since its inception, but conservative opponents have consistently misinterpreted this as proof that the public would welcome rehashing the debate over the law, and they have wrongly taken the public’s disapproval as a sign that trying to derail the law using any and all means available is a political winner for them. In the current fight, the GOP has no “policy advantage” because most of the public doesn’t accept the way that Republicans are going about undermining the law, and there is less support for undermining the law than many conservatives realize. It is possible that whatever advantage the GOP may have had because of its opposition to the ACA is being eroded by the party’s preoccupation with it.